Updating (eventually) the Paratilapia polleni “small spot” log …

by Francesco Zezza

It's been a long time since my last update on the matter (God bless my Brazilian trips) but I'm now able to add something more to the “history” of these fishes that (oddly enough I have to add) despite the fact that they were the first Madagascan cichlids we managed to keep they are also the ones that nobody of us has (till now) managed to spawn successfully. Enough as a foreword, here we go …

After having – eventually - reduced (by selling four adult specimens) the number of P. polleni “Small Spot” in my main tank (750 lt, roughly 180 US gals) to just four adult specimens a pair was formed  - at least ! My P. polleni share the tank with four Pe dammi and three catfishes.

Male is much bigger (of course) and after forming a pair they requested half of the tank for them, despite the presence of two loriicarids (one foot each) and a large, old, pugnacious Synodontis eupterus). They started swimming side by side, resting at the same place(s), digging here'n there and eventually decided to dig their spawning pit (by removing a LOT of gravel) in the left corner of the tank. In this place, along the rear glass, there's a cave big enough to hold - almost - both fishes hidden from their tankmates.

Digging continued for about ten days and then ... nothing more. All the fishes were swimming together again (with the remaining two P. polleni and the Pe damii) while the pair lost its ink black overall colour. After some time the other female entered the "male area" and/or the cave . Meanwhile, the fourth fish (supposed to be a second, subdominant male) had been beaten a bit, but managed to find a suitable hiding spot and is getting along quite well – for the time being.

Nothing happened this time  - one week more or so has passed – except that the initial pair was formed again. I wonder - has the male checked both available females just to be sure? It should be noted that the chosen (if so) female is the bigger of the two (is she supposed to be able to produce/lay more eggs?).

Digging, eventually, restarted and now (beginning of July 2005) the female doesn't come out of her cave as often as she used to. The male is hovering in front/above their den. Other fish learned not to trespass an invisible (to me, of course …) territorial mark and things are going on quite well. One of the two loriicarids (always the same) is “allowed” to rest on the stone that is placed as ceiling to the cave from time to time (the other one can’t even come close; I don’t know why).

Yesterday (again the female) fed reluctantly (fish receive on alternate days pellets of different brands/size, spirulina tablets, fresh food such as filleted fish and/or shrimps). Live mealworm/earthworm are offered every now and then. Mealworm were bought at a petshop as “turtle-food” while earthworms are hand-collected  after each rain in the garden so I am sure they are pesticide-free. The male – too - proved not that eager to take food during this period, although he is normally a really messy eater.

Both fishes behave normally so their “no food grabbing” behavior couldn't be related to an illness. I considered all options but the fish were both ink black with a lot of highly visible, shining, small dots (justifying their nickmane "Starry Night Cichlid”) while the male showed a noticeable yellowish stain on his hump ...

I was too curious and couldn't resist the temptation anymore so I carefully (by means of a hand torch) checked the interior of the cave but I had to stop almost immediately since both fish looked too stressed and anxious to see me leaving. Anyway, there were no eggs in there (as far as I could see) even though their behaviour suggested that something had already happened or was about to start. In my very humble opinion they were simply trying to spawn!!!

This led me to lot of questions starting from the fact that I couldn't evacuate the tank leaving the pair alone since there was no place to put the other fish. Was there something else I could do to help the pair ? Would an extra water change (beyond the scheduled ones) help? Offering them more live/fresh food? Or perhaps, a dimmer environment? Maybe a change in water temp (not that easy since, here in Italy, is peak summer)? Something else?

The pair (male at left) close to their cave, two of the pits are clearly in sight.

Another picture of the pair (shot in the same place, this time it is the female close to the glass).

I did nothing of all this and decided to leave them in peace instead... and eventually (July, 14th 2005) it happened … EGGS!

Here are pictures proving the event. Please forgive the extremely poor quality of the pictures but, for obvious reasons, cleaning the glass at that point was out of the question since this would result in an unnecessary (and unwanted) stress to the parents.

You can see the eggs which were laid at the bottom of tank, close to both stones and the rear tank wall. I mean a LOT OF EGGS!!! The pair is on the opposite side of the cave to prevent possible intruders from entering the cave …

The female, all of a sudden,  notices that something is going “wrong” on the other side of the cave (me approaching the tank while holding the camera) and rushes “in” as fast as she can …

That’s why I like cichlids. They are “brave” fish … the female (the male is still patrolling outside the cave on the opposite side …) is now swimming and displaying, really worried over the eggs with her mouth, gills and fins as extended as possible. Those “living sand grains” are – or are supposed to be – their “future” hence they deserve the strongest possible defence … It was time to go “away”, the images had been taken … there’s nothing else, for me, to do but leave them in peace and keep my finger crossed.

 REGRETTABLY something didn’t work properly and eggs got lost within two/three days after taking those pictures, to my regret. The positive side of the story is the fact that I know there’s a “breeding pair” swimming in my tank. The negative side is that the eggs (which are seldom laid in tanks, as far as I know) were finally lost. Somewhere between the two lies my need for further studying and the wish (more and more urging) for an outside pond. But this is a completely different story ….

So far so good (well, not that much), that’s all … for the moment !

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